By Al Cross, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
Rural communities have been disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic, but rural newspapers have been disproportionately quiet about it. They seem to cover it as a criminal-justice problem, when it is primarily a health problem. Smart law enforcers and first responders will tell you that, but many if not most rural papers seem reluctant to cover it that way – to dig into the reasons for addiction, the struggles to overcome it, the search for treatment and the stories of success.
Part of this, I know from experience, is the natural reluctance of community journalists to report facts that reflect poorly on their communities. In many places, they probably think there’s already enough bad news.
Another big factor is the stigma that still surrounds people with drug problems. That is more prevalent in rural areas, and it keeps people from seeking help – and clings to those who do, putting them at risk for relapse. The role of stigma was well researched by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, and The Rural Blog reported on it at https://bit.ly/2MhNYlq.
The folks at Oak Ridge said local news media can counteract stigma with reporting. To help rural journalists cover substance abuse, behavioral health and recovery, they and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (which publishes The Rural Blog) are planning a one-day workshop in mid-November. Watch for details on it soon.
Meanwhile, start reporting. Get local data. Ask your coroner each month for death certificates, and for advice on what families might be willing to talk about the struggles of addiction that ended in death. Talk to people in the treatment community, and then to people with substance-abuse disorder.
Read more here.